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Climate Change Could Have a Negative Impact on Mental Health

Mar 30, 2017 06:16 AM EDT
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Severe weather and other natural disasters brought by climate change can immediately affect mental health in the form of trauma or shock.
(Photo : Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The American Psychological Association, in partnership with ecoAmerica, has recently released a new report describing the potential impact of climate change on mental health.

The report, titled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, shows that severe weather and other natural disasters brought by climate change can immediately affect mental health in the form of trauma or shock.

The loss of loved ones, personal injuries and damage to or loss of property due to natural disasters could cause trauma, terror, anger, shock and other intense negative emotions that could last for a period of time. When people finally overcome their initial negative response to climate change-induced disasters, they may experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a press release, APA used the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as an example. The report noted that suicide and suicidal ideation have more than doubled in the affected areas. Additionally, about 49 percent of people living in the areas affected by the hurricane developed anxiety or mood disorder such as depression. Furthermore, about one in six people met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aside from the intense negative feelings that dominate people's initial response to a disaster, there could also be significant mental health impacts from long-term climate change. The report noted that changes in the climate could greatly affect agriculture, infrastructure and livability.

These changes could lead to loss of personal and professional identity, loss of social support structures, loss of a sense of control and autonomy and other mental health impacts such as feelings of helplessness, fear and fatalism.

More importantly, worrying about the actual or potential impacts of climate change could build up stress overtime, resulting to stress-related problems such as anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse.

One way of dealing with climate change-induced trauma and stress is connecting with other people, either online or offline. The report cited a research that links higher levels of social support with lower rates of psychological distress.

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